Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Last Night's Tipple

The skins of red grapes have tannins and pigments, and these tannins and pigments give red wine its backbone and color. The pinot noir grape, being a red grape, has tannins and pigments in its skin; but its skin is thin and consequently imparts much lower quantities of tannins and pigments than most red grapes, particularly the big boys like cabernet sauvignon and syrah. According to John Winthrop Haeger's book North American Pinot Noir,
[t]he thin skins’ tannins comprise only about 1.7 percent of the grape’s weight–as compared to 3 percent to 6 percent in most red varieties–and pinot’s anthocyanins, the soluble pigments that give most red wines their color, are present in less than half the quantity as in, for example, syrah.

This means that most pinot noir wines don't have really deep color and are not particularly tannic. In fact, all too many pinots are pale and thin; and that has been my principal complaint about the pinot wines that I have been trying recently. I don't really want pinot to be an inky, tannic monster that coats my tongue with grape sludge -- finesse and subtlety are usually attributes to be desired in a wine, particularly a pinot, in my opinion -- but I'd like it to remind me that it isn't just water with alcohol and some red food coloring added.

Costco is currently selling the 2005 Van Duzer Vineyards Willamette Valley Estate Pinot Noir for around $25 a bottle. When I saw it, I had never heard of Van Duzer Vineyards; but I liked the looks of the bottle and the shelf talker, and I bought a bottle. It was something of a risk -- insipid pinot noirs are all too common, even at high price points. Paying $10 for an insipid wine is merely disappointing. Paying $25 for one is actively infuriating. Well, fortunately, this Van Duzer pinot is not insipid. It's significantly darker than the other pinots that I have tried recently, and it also has more concentration and tannic backbone. There's some earth and some cherries on the nose, as well as olives. Yes, olives. Strange, at least to me, but not at all unappealing. There is a good deal of bright cherry fruit on the palate, and the wine has a nice bit of acidity, which I like. I wouldn't say that I have found the Holy Grail of pinot noir, but at least I found one that I like a good bit.

(It turns out that Van Duzer Vineyards was founded in 1989. They primarily make pinot noir, although they do make some pinot gris. All of the grapes that they use are grown on their own estates -- no purchased grapes. There are two separate lines: the lower-priced Estate line and the higher-priced Reserve line, which appears to be made up exclusively of single-vineyard wines. Based on my experience with the Estate pinot noir, I'd certainly be willing to shell out another $10 a bottle to try one of the Reserve wines.)

No comments: